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Construction Parliamentary Update - 3 September 2010

A round-up of all the construction news from Westminster this week, brought to you by the Madano Partnership

PLANNING

Scottish Government transport and infrastructure minister Stewart Stevenson has released updated planning advice focusing on ensuring communities can effectively engage in the planning system. The document encourages engagement with communities from the earliest possible stage to enable views to be reflected in development plans and on individual proposals (31 August).

The Infrastructure Planning Commission has accepted its first application from Covanta Rookery South Limited for an energy-from-waste and materials recovery facility, to be located at Rookery South in Bedfordshire. The application will now progress to an examination by IPC commissioners - a process which includes more public input and hearings - and a decision on development consent will be made in under 12 months (26 August).

CONSTRUCTION

The latest figures from the Markit/Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index have shown that construction fell to a six-month low in August as growth in homebuilding and the pace of new orders slowed. The activity index, where a score over 50 signals growth, fell to 52.1 from 54.1 in July - the third monthly fall in a row (2 September).

Construction News has reported that the UK Contractors Group have called for a change in the way the Health and Safety Executive operates. The UK Contractors Group said that although the HSE needed to change, the regulatory regime did not (2 September).

HOUSING

Labour leadership contender Ed Balls, shadow housing minister John Healey, shadow work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone have launched a campaign on building more affordable housing. Mr Balls called for an extra £6 billion to be invested to build an additional 100,000 affordable homes in a major new programme of housebuilding. The plan is aimed at creating new private sector jobs, boosting economic growth and tackling the shortage of affordable housing (31 August).

Think tank Policy Exchange has published a report calling for a radical overhaul of housing policy that it says could save the taxpayer around £20 billion a year. The report, Making Housing Affordable: A new vision for housing policy, calls for a big increase in the number of new homes being built for sale or rent in areas of high demand. The report also recommends that housing developers should be allowed to offer substantial cash incentives to win the support of residents for new construction projects in their neighbourhood (31 August).

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has visited ‘Scotland’s Housing Expo’, the first sustainable homes event to be held in Scotland, backed by £2 million in Scottish Government capital funding. The housing expo is a permanent housing development of 27 different projects showcasing innovative, sustainable homes. It aims to encourage better design, including improved energy use and energy conservation to help cut households’ carbon footprint (30 August).

An article in the Financial Times has discussed the problem faced by the housebuilding industry as a result of a decline in new housing buyers (28 August).

The Major of London Boris Johnson has come in for criticism following the release of the latest housebuilding statistics from the Department of Communities and Local Government, which showed that fewer homes were built in London last year than at any time in the past 20 years. Work started on 11,480 homes, the lowest number since 1990, with only 4,180 in the ‘affordable’ category (27 August).

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has published its Annual Report for the 2009/10 year showing that 2,838 new social homes were started in Northern Ireland in 2009/10, the largest number for a decade. However, the report also revealed the extent of the cash shortage delaying major improvements for several thousand Housing Executive homes (26 August).

The Scottish Government has released the latest housing statistics for Scotland. There were 17,474 completions in Scotland during 2009/10, a decrease of 17 per cent on the previous year. Starts also fell by 22 per cent from 19,593 in 2008/09 to 15,372 in 2009/10. The overall fall was driven by a large decline in private sector building. However, a new wave of local authority housebuilding has begun, with 624 starts in the year to June 2010 compared with 337 the previous year - an 85 per cent increase (29 August).

EDUCATION

Hertfordshire County Council has announced the appointment of Balfour Beatty Education as its selected bidder to build the sample schools for the Herfordshire Building Schools for the Future programme. The contractor will deliver the rebuilding and remodelling of Marriotts, Lonsdale and Nobel schools in Stevenage (1 September).

TRANSPORT

Network Rail has confirmed it has delivered the detailed cost and design plans for the above-ground sections of London’s Crossrail project ahead of schedule (1 September).

TheSunday Times has reported that Mayor of London Boris Johnson threatened to resign in a row with the Treasury over London transport spending cuts. Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman denied claims that the Mayor demanded more money for the £16 billion Crossrail project and increased funds to carry out upgrades on the Tube. The Financial Times has also reported that senior government figures have revealed that Crossrail has been made a high priority project because of the potential economic benefits it offers and the large degree of private finance already in place for the project (29 August).

OLYMPICS AND 2012

Plans for the London 2012 temporary Water Polo Arena have been approved, with the venues’ ‘rippling roof’ to be made of recycled PVC cushions inflated with air to provide extra insulation. The 5,000-seat venue has been designed to be taken down after the Games and reused elsewhere (27 August).